‘I feel scared:’ Indigenous youth call for change after high-profile acquittals

“I feel scared. I feel scared for urban Indigenous young people who are affected by too many systems that fail them.”

Family and supporters of Thelma Favel, Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt and the woman who raised her, march past the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Friday, February 23, 2018, in Winnipeg the day after the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the 2nd degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Recent acquittals in the high-profile deaths of two young Indigenous people have some of their peers across Canada questioning whether reconciliation is possible.

“I feel scared. I feel scared for urban Indigenous young people who are affected by too many systems that fail them,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, 30, an organizer with Aboriginal Youth Opportunities in Winnipeg.

“I am nervous for all of my relatives who are wrapped up in a justice system that doesn’t know what that word means.”

Last month, a jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty in the 2014 death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. Her body was found wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in Winnipeg’s Red River.

Related: ‘All of us should be ashamed’: Calls for change after jury finds Raymond Cormier not guilty

Less than two weeks earlier, a Saskatchewan jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the 2016 killing of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, who was shot after the vehicle he was in drove onto Stanley’s farm.

Both verdicts brought people into the streets to protest.

The Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council said the verdicts highlight the “systemic racism that is pervading the Canadian justice system.” The Canadian Roots Exchange, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth dedicated to reconciliation, posted a statement saying ”racism, colonialism and white supremacy continue to thrive.”

Champagne said it’s hard to have faith in a justice system that ignores countless reports and recommendations, including the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry from 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from 1996 and calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Related: Dozens decry Indigenous injustice outside Penticton’s court

It’s time for action, he said.

“I want the justice system in Canada in general to quit asking Indigenous people what we need, because we have already told you,” he said. “Right now, we can’t have a conversation about reconciliation in this country until we feel that there is justice.”

Brendin Beaulieu, an 18-year-old Winnipeg high school student, is preparing for graduation. The six-foot-five teenager who likes to make music in his spare time said he has to deal with a “broken heart” as he grapples with “knowing there are things we can do but it’s going to take time.”

Vitriol online shows there’s a lot of talking about Indigenous youth but not nearly enough listening to them, Beaulieu said.

Jada Ross, 17, goes to a different high school across the city, but is having similar conversations with her friends and family. She said they are scared and saddened but determined to make change.

Lauren Chopek, 21, knows all too well how vulnerable Tina was on the city’s streets.

Chopek was sexually exploited as a teenager. Now, she runs the Midnight Medicine Walk to help others in the same position. She said it feels as if Indigenous people have been asking for justice for a long time, but it’s essential Canada hears it.

“I’ve been there in her shoes, and also misjudged and just ignored as a person on the street, being a child that needs to be somewhere safe. I needed help and I just got judged,” she said.

“Why are we always the ones standing up for ourselves? How come there is no one else vouching for us?”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central Westcoast Forest Society is searching for wood and trees

Scrap wood will be used to help rebuild the local salmon populations near Tofino and Ucluelet.

UPDATED: Tofino-Ucluelet highway reopens after bridge installed earlier than expected

Hwy. 4 now open to all vehicles, including delivery trucks and RVs

UPDATED: Ucluelet and Tofino mayors call for “calmness” and “empathy” as highway closure cuts communities off from supplies

Ministry of transportation expects to open road for “essential travel only” from noon-8 p.m. Friday.

Tofino shakes up emergency notification service

“You can download maps and it has more functionality.”

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Risk of coronavirus low in B.C. as first case emerges in Toronto: officials

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in B.C.

Most Read